The state legislative deal transferring Nassau County’s authority to install 1,000 video slot machines to Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens is a big win for opponents of a video casino at Belmont Park.
The deal is also a win for Nassau County, but to what extent is still unclear. As to good government and common sense, that’s another matter.
Under the agreement, which state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Old Westbury) helped craft, the private company that operates Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct will make monthly payments to Nassau County Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. – some of which will passed through to financially strapped Nassau County.
In exchange, Resorts World will get Nassau’s authority to add 1,000 video lottery terminals to the 5,433 it already has.
Opponents had complained that terminals at Belmont would lead to an increase in crime and traffic, and a decrease in property values.
Presumably, the bad guys and additional traffic will now become Queens’ problem. As will the jobs.
This is the second time a video casino was rejected in Nassau County. Nassau OTB abandoned plans last year to site the casino at a vacant Fortunoff Jewelry store in Westbury after widespread opposition from residents and elected officials.
Among the opponents was Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, whose 2016 budget called for $25 million in video casino revenue to help avoid a deficit.
But, apparently, Nassau County is no place for hockey teams or casinos.
More strange is that Nassau County OTB will receive money for the right to install video terminals given by the state Legislature but not actually installed.
And even stranger is that the payments from Genting New York LLC, the company that operates Resorts World, will go to Nassau County OTB, a county authority that is $12 million in debt- $7 million of which is this year’s operating budget.
The use of Off-Track Betting Corporations has always been a questionable practice for government, generating a disproportionate share of its revenue from those least able to afford it.
The upside was that they would generate revenue that would otherwise have to be provided by taxes.
With the Nassau County OTB, we get the worst of both worlds — soaking those with lesser means and still losing money.
So why does it even still exist?
New York City OTB ceased operations in 2010 when faced with a similar circumstances.
OTB President Joseph Cairo said the agency would use an as-yet-undetermined percentage of the $43 million it is to receive from Genting in the first three years to pay down its debt.
The agreement guarantees that OTB will transfer some revenue to Nassau County, but does not specify any amounts.
Adam Barsky, the new chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, said it was “bad public policy” for the Genting payments to go directly to OTB, according to a Newsday report.
Barsky said all the payments could be at risk if OTB went bankrupt – as the Suffolk County OTB did in 2012 until emerging out of bankruptcy in 2015.
Cairo said the agreement is not a “panacea” for the OTB, according to Newsday. “We still need to cut back.”
Behind all these convolutions are the campaign promises of Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and Republican county legislators to not raise taxes to balance the county budget.
The county would be better served if Mangano and the legislators either cut the budget or raised revenue in a more straightforward way.
Care to bet on the chances of that happening?